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Get the Picture—Get the Story

Number and Operations
Location: Unknown

In the following lesson, students act as reporters at the Super Bowl. Students study four pictures of things that they would typically find at a football game: players, a scoreboard, a crowd, and a concession stand. Students are asked to create problem situations that correspond to their interpretation of each of the pictures.

Discuss with the students the idea that in many books, as well as in most testing situations, they have been given problems that they were asked to solve. Here they will also get a chance to become the problem writers.

The students will become reporters at the Super Bowl. One job of a reporter is to write about what he or she sees. Explain that in this activity they will look at some pictures taken at the game and will write some math problems to go along with what they see in the pictures.

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Distribute a copy of the Get the Picture—Get the Story Activity Sheet to each student.

pdficon  Get the Picture—Get the Story Activity Sheet 

Explain to the class that for each of the four pictures, the pair of students is to create a math problem and write it in the spaces below the pictures.

Encourage the class to be creative in formulating their problems by not necessarily writing down the first and easiest problem that comes to minds. You can remind students that answers do not have to be numeric. Problems can involve creating graphs, equations, expressions, etc.

If students choose to create problems with numeric answers, encourage them to use a different operation, or an operation in a different way, for each picture.  This restriction will help avoid having every group write a simple addition problem for each picture.

Alternatively, you can ask students to write two different problems for each of the pictures (one with a numeric answer, and the other with a non-numeric answer). 

After everyone has finished writing four problems, have each pair of students get together with another pair (if even pairings do not result, then you may need to form one group of six) to share their problems.

Once the students have compared their problems, ask, "How many of you discovered that the other pair in your group wrote a different problem for the picture than you did? What makes it different?" Take this opportunity to discuss how a picture, a diagram, a graph, and the like, are often perceived differently by different people. Ask students to share a couple of problems and ask the class if they can word the same problem in a different way. This is an excellent time for students to develop the ability to build their mathematical communication skills (ex. the ability to recognize that "take x from y" is equivalent to "y minus x.").

After the class discussion, have students choose a problem (in their groups of 4 or 6) for each picture. Depending on the time remaining, have each group present one or more problems for the class to solve.



J. David Keller, Daniel J. Brahier, and William R. Speer. The Arithmetic Teacher. January, 1993, 40(5). pp. 264‑77.


Assessment Options 

  1. Collect students' activity sheets and note those who are able to create a diverse set of word problem vs. those students who struggled to do so.
  2. Ask students to think of a scenario in their day to day lives that would make a great math problem. Have students write and solve this problem as an exit slip or as an assignment.


  1. After a Sunday of professional football games, clip from the newspaper the statistics from several games.

    Put each news clipping into an envelope with a sheet of paper and divide the class into teams of three or four students.  Give each team an envelope. Their task is to write on the piece of paper one word problem based on the data in the news clipping, put the clipping and the piece of paper back into the envelope, and pass it on to the next team.

    The next team takes out the contents, solves the problem on the sheet of paper, and writes a new problem.

    That team then passes the envelope on to the next team.  Continue this process until at least five questions have been written and solved for each clipping.

  2. To connect art to mathematics, have each student draw a picture and write a problem about the picture.  Then have students exchange their drawings, having each student write a problem about the picture that he or she received.

    Finally, each student compares the problem that she or he wrote to the problem that the artist wrote originally to see if they are the same.


Questions for Students 

[Answers will vary for each. These questions are written to help facilitate and encourage math talk.]

  1. Can you think of another way to word the same problem differently?
  2. What operation do you think is most difficult to write a math problem with? Why?
  3. Do you think that there is a limit to how may math problems can be created with a given picture? Explain.

Teacher Reflection 

  • How should you pair the students such that each person in the group can contribute a fair share of work?
  • How could you encourage students who have a difficult time speaking up during class discussions to participate?
  • How could you modify this lesson to engage students who are not interested in football?
Number and Operations

Super Bowl Scores

This activity focuses on analyzing the scores for football games.  Students study combinations of numbers to produce possible scores for football games.
Number and Operations

Super Bowl Scavenger Hunt

In many homes, the Super Bowl is an event of some significance. This activity is designed to have students examine some enjoyable (and, sometimes, obscure) questions using mathematics during the game. The questions on the activity sheet require that the students make observations about the game.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Create and solve written problems generated by pictures.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Recognize equivalent representations for the same number and generate them by decomposing and composing numbers.
  • Develop fluency in adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing whole numbers.